“To those not familiar with Peaches’ irreverent, catchy and utterly ridiculous musical output (usually described as ‘electro-clash’ – punk-rock-influenced synth-driven pop with both sung and rapped vocals), the film may be a bit baffling. Indeed, there were three walk-outs at the screening I attended.
But to those already fans of Peaches’ music, the film is a culmination of all the elements she embodies, musically and stylistically. It consists of a series of surreal musical vignettes woven together by only the loosest of narratives: it is 1999 and Peaches is experimenting in her bedroom with a mic and a synth, letting her imagination run amok. At one point her bed becomes a giant vagina from which a series of horny dancers spill forth. Suddenly a washed-up stripper (Sandy Kane, aka The Naked Cowgirl) appears and urges her to take to the stage and share her musical creations. During one show a hitherto frenetic Peaches halts to a stop, becoming entranced with a beautiful, creature-like transsexual (Danni Daniels).
There is never any dialogue, just musical numbers performed in glam-rock-inspired costumes and accompanied by crude but compelling choreography from a team of back-up dancers. It is one big theatrical production edited to flow like a dream sequence. Several hits (“Boys Wanna Be Her”, “Mommy Complex”, “Lose You”, “I Feel Cream”, “Set It Off” and yes, “Fuck the Pain Away”) get re-works so there’s something familiar even for those who like her sound but are not die-hard fans.
Peaches actually showed up at the end of the screening I attended to thank the audience. She came across as very humble, almost shy, a sharp contrast to her onstage persona. She explained her intent to craft a visual narrative around her songs in the tradition of the “jukebox musical” or rock opera. She wanted the music to take centre-stage over the narrative, and she wanted that narrative to be quite self-reflexive (she remarked that We Will Rock You would be an amazing musical if only it channelled the dreams and vision of a young Freddie Mercury – I totally agree).
To conclude, Peaches Does Herself appears to borrow from films as varied as Singin’ in the Rain and other classic MGM musicals, Prince’s Purple Rain, the David Bowie homage Velvet Goldmine, 80s underground art films Cafe Flesh and Liquid Sky, and the gender-bending cult favourite Hedwig & the Angry Inch. But the film does not actually rip off these precursors – it is very much Peaches’ own creation and a fine addition to her oeuvre.” (Hashimuri, Imdb)
Ever the thwarter of convention, Peaches’ experimental documentary Peaches Does Herself comes in a faux-concert film format, taking place on a stage with attention paid on adhering to the 180-degree rule. It gives the illusion of live performance despite the show falling more into the category of performance art with a musical component, all of which tells the story of the Canadian electroclash musician from experimental teen years through a cavalcade of sexual experimentation and eschewing of traditional gender roles to the present.
Though the narrative is determined through musical progression and set modification, this world is clearly defined from the outset with a teen Peaches sitting in her bedroom—emblazoned in hot pink and black—programming rudimentary beats and testing out her lyrical threshold for candid discussions of sexuality. It’s a simple enough structure that is quickly subverted by the arrival of several lycra-clad dancers that emerge from a vaginal hole on her bed, moving to the beats of her music and contorting into orgiastic positions, covering the gamut of experimental, though implicitly heteronormative, sexual scenarios, whether they be doggy-style, missionary, three-ways or daisy chains.
Soon, her style and aesthetic shifts from hot pink to industrial silver as her music progresses to more of a synthpunk stage, introducing additional instruments and, in turn, an added understanding of sexual performance and female sexuality. It’s broken up by quietly prescient comic relief in the form of Sandy Kane (Naked Cowgirl), an aged stripper singing “Shake Your Dixs” while shoving the microphone in her butt crack, not noticing when a tassel falls off her sagging breast.
It’s here that Peaches demonstrates her understanding of sexual performance as distinguishable from that of performance art, which then leads to her greater appreciation for the confines of gender. She introduces Danni Daniels, a fully nude transgender dancer and porn star, dancing around Peaches suggesting pride in individuality free from traditionalist constraints.
While some may cry sensationalism, not completely understanding the candid analysis of sexuality that Peaches is trying to present, there’s a sense of empowerment and strength that comes from these moments that defies the typically egocentric nature of a work like this. Her skills as a director are limited—aesthetically, there isn’t a great deal going on beyond set design and the composition is oft-amateurish—but her ability to communicate an idea through artistic performance is extremely well-honed.
Experimental works rarely come across as accessibly and as clearly as Peaches Does Herself, which, in itself, is quite an achievement, especially for a cross-medium production. (Robert Bell, Exclaim.ca)